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House on Selby Property was Christy Payne's

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Charlotte Roberts
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center
Credit: Sarasota History Alive

Sarasota History - House on Selby Property was Christy Payne's photo

A common mistake many people make is thinking that the large white house at the corner of Palm Avenue and U.S. 41 is the William and Marie Selby House. After all, it is on Selby Botanical Gardens property. But the large two-story house that overlooks Sarasota Bay, was built in 1934 for Christy Payne as his retirement home.

Christy Payne's father, Calvin M. Payne, was one of the original group that aided John D. Rockefeller Sr. in building his giant business, Standard Oil of New Jersey. The elder Payne discovered Sarasota when it was little more than a small fishing village in 1911. He bought a winter home on Gulfstream Avenue, and had a beach cottage built on Siesta Key, where the Island House Condominium now stands. Christy Payne had been a director with Standard Oil and then was named treasurer, a position he kept until his retirement in 1935.

Christy Payne fell in love with Sarasota when he came to the area in 1913 with his parents, the first of many winter visits. Even though he had several homes in New York and Connecticut, and a summer retreat in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, he knew he wanted to retire in Sarasota. In 1934 he bought the 1-acre jungle of overgrown tropical overgrowth located at the corner of the brick-paved Mound Street (today's U.S. 41) and Palm Avenue. Payne was fascinated with mansions and for years had planned the retirement home he would build. He collected many photographs of great homes. One photographed home, the Franklin Jones House in Sewickley, Pennsylvania was said to be the model for the Payne house.

After purchasing the corner lot, Payne hired Paul Bergman, Inc., Sarasota contractors, to build the house. Payne chose architect A.C. Price to merge all of his collected ideas into a blended whole. Construction began in the summer of 1934, as the height of the Depression, when sirloin steaks sold for 15 cents a pound in the local grocery stores.

Cost for the house was expected to be $40,000, but the final cost was $50,000. Being conscious of the possibility of hurricanes, Payne had the foundation built of steel railroad tracks, and the downstairs floor was comprised of flood-resistant cement covered with terrazzo. The completed house included six fireplaces and six ultra-modern bathrooms. Payne was the first in Sarasota to have the pull-down attic stairs, and he installed a roof-top solar heating system to supplement their electric water heater on the first floor. He wanted the house to have an "antique" quality to it, so the new red bricks were cement washed to give them a timeless look.

Anne and Christy Payne moved into the house August 21, 1935, after more than a year of building. The first winter was a cold one, and the six fireplaces were kept so busy that 21 cords of firewood were used to keep the house warm. Semi-central heat was not installed until the 1950s.

The landscaping was carefully done with native plants. Several of the laurel oaks still remain. The Japanese yews on either side of the front door that were fledging plants, now reach the roof.

Anne Payne died in 1955. Christy Payne lived in his dream house for 27 years, until his death in 1962 at the age of 88.